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Thursday, November 23, 2017

Area flu season deemed uneventful so far

By Jason Stuart

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

Flu season is at its peak, but while the Montana Department of Health and Human Services currently classifies the virus as “widespread” across the state, Dawson County has so far dodged the worst of the flu bug.

According to Dawson County Health Department Director Timber Dempewolf, there have been just 23 cases of flu confirmed in Dawson County to date. Since reporting for the season began on Oct. 2, 2016, 3,318 cases statewide and 369 hospitalizations have been reported to DPHHS, with six flu-related deaths reported so far this season. However, as a whole, the Eastern Montana region appears to be missing the worst of the flu season, while the virus is much more prevalent in central and western Montana.

“Not very eventful,” Dempewolf said in describing the flu season’s effects locally to date.

Dawson has had more cases of the flu than any other neighboring county. Richland County has had just five cases. Custer County has had 21. The smaller, rural counties like McCone or Wibaux only have a couple of cases apiece. A few, like Prairie County, have avoided the flu altogether so far.

Nevertheless, while there may have been more cases of the flu in Dawson County so far than Richland or Custer counties, there have been no severe cases, which Dempewolf said is somewhat out of the norm.

“It’s been a mild season as far as Dawson County, we’ve had no hospitalizations,” she said. “We typically might see a couple of hospitalizations.”

Two factors — which actually go hand-in-hand — are contributing to keeping this flu season under wraps so far, according to Dempewolf.

For starters, the strain of the flu making its way around Montana does not appear to be a particularly virulent one. For example, Dempewolf said there have been no notices sent by DPHHS or the Centers for Disease Control that this year’s flu virus poses greater risk to those with weaker immune systems, like the very young or the elderly.

“There hasn’t been any information as far as any age groups that are being affected worse,” Dempewolf said.

Furthermore, the flu virus making the rounds right now has, at least to date, not mutated, as it is often prone to do. Dempewolf said that means that the flu vaccine in stock for this season is proving very effective.

“Compared to last year when we had that shift in the strain that was circulating, the information I’m getting from the state and the CDC is the vaccine this year has been a good batch,” she said.

Especially with this year’s flu vaccine proving effective, Dempewolf noted that the best means of preventing the flu is to get vaccinated. The CDC recommends that everyone over six months of age get the flu vaccine. 

Other than getting vaccinated, Dempewolf said other ways people can help prevent the spread of the disease is to make sure to wash your hands frequently and, if you are feeling poorly and think it might be the flu, don’t go out into the world and spread it to others.

“If you’re ill, stay home,” Dempewolf said.

 

Reach Jason Stuart at rrreporter@rangerreview.com.

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